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ASU Baseball: Ray Anderson gives Sun Devil head coach Tracy Smith a vote of confidence

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Tracy Smith will be back for a fifth season.

Jordan Kaye/House of Sparky

For the last few months, the speculation surrounding ASU head coach Tracy Smith’s job security becoming deafening. So much so that ASU AD Ray Anderson called a press conference Tuesday to kill the rumors and make it clear the Smith will be back in 2019.

The ASU skipper will return for a fifth season as head coach, and his tenure has been rocky. He’s compiled a 117-110 record in four seasons, including recording back-to-back losing seasons for the first time in program history.

The Present

ASU is coming off two of the worst seasons in program history. It’s been well documented that the on-field struggles have stemmed from lackluster defense and poor pitching.

“The old adage that pitching and defense wins ballgames has been demonstrated this year,” said Anderson.

The Sun Devils an all-freshman infield for the majority of the season and it showed, the middle infield of Alika Williams and Drew Swift showed strong flashes of defensive potential and heading into their sophomore seasons will be expected to keep improving.

The Future

The key reason Smith was retained was his recruiting prowess. Anderson has proven this to be a key factor in evaluating all of his coaches. Smith’s contract doesn’t expire until after the 2021 season, but Anderson has shown a willingness to pay an expensive buyout if necessary.

“Now you have one, two and three very solid recruiting classes that should be able to put it together and play competitive baseball at the level that we anticipate,” said Anderson. “2019 frankly is a very important year for us, and we expect to see significant improvement in those areas.”

Anderson highlighted the success of Spencer Torkelson’s freshman season as a positive sign and believes the offense is going to greatly improve.

Number of Wins

Anderson set a high standard for what he expects from the baseball program in the future.

“We’re not concerned with winning 30 games and falling out in the first round of the playoffs. We’re looking to build a long-term successful program that will go way beyond that and will compete consistently at the championship level,” said Anderson.

The leap from sitting in the back-end of the Pac-12 standings to a College World Series contender is large. There’s nothing wrong with having lofty goals, but having unattainable expectations causes headaches for everyone involved in the program. Smith will be expected to be fielding a winning team from the get-go in 2019.

Clubhouse Chemistry

It was often reported in 2017 that Smith lost the locker room due to chemistry issues between players from the Tim Esmay era and some of Smith’s recruits. This season, the team appeared to have meshed better and maintained a strong bond through a losing season.

“It has improved significantly this year in our opinion over where it has been the last three or four (years). That’s by design, we need to see that continue as well along with actual game day performance,” said Anderson.

Smith will enter 2019 with players he’s personally recruited. Chemistry concerns might be tampered down for now, but a slow start to 2019 could snowball out of control for the ASU skipper.

Ballpark Dimensions

The dimensions at Phoenix Municipal Stadium have been a major point of discussion since ASU moved in 2015. The former MLB spring training home has always favored pitchers, and has at times been a detriment to success in the offensive-driven Pac-12.

“We have absolutely talked about the offensive advantages we will have by bringing in those fences to a much more reasonable distance,” said Anderson. “We’re going to be an offensive juggernaut, we’re going to move the fences more in line with other dimensions and other home arenas and see how it goes.”

A more hitter-friendly ballpark could work to the Sun Devils’ favor in the short term, but it will remain to be seen if Muni becomes too offensive oriented if that makes certain pitching recruits shy away from signing with ASU.

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Anderson showed his willingness to stick with coaches if they are bringing in the recruiting talent. Bobby Hurley has put Arizona State on the basketball map by going out and bringing talent to Tempe. Todd Graham failed to do that and was fired. Smith has brought the talent, but has struggled to piece it together in regards to wins and losses.

Higher results will be expected immediately, but for now, Smith remains the skipper looking for another clean slate in 2019.